Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending PCMA’s annual conference (Professional Convention Management Association) in Boston, where I received an award as one of the top young professionals in the events industry.
It was 3 days full of education, networking and inspiration at a really well organised conference. What did I learn that can enhance your next meeting?
- Social learning is a really big component of any meeting. I reckon that around 70% of my new ideas didn’t come from the speakers I listened to, but from the people I talked to. That is a lot, isn’t it? So what does this means? It means that you should create as many opportunities as possible to foster this type of learning. Having speaker presentations are a great way to start conversations, but be sure to leave ample time for delegates to discuss. Include longer coffee breaks and round table discussions during each session. Another good idea is to sort out people by similar level of experience, so discussions are richer.
- Sensory components add an extra layer of engagement to the meeting. PCMA spent some time thinking about how to stimulate the 5 senses. They had a DJ playing energetic music in between sessions and used different colours to estimulate a certain mood or guide people through an experience. I find these are useful tools to integrate in your event.
- You can never create too much engagement. I was particularly surprised by the many ways in which PCMA created engagement with the delegates: from photocalls with props, post-its for people to write their ‘Big Ideas’, multiple hashtags, a Social Media moderator, a playroom to draw and write… there was even a remote numerologist reading cards! Why is this important? Most of these techniques (ok, maybe not the numerologist, that was just something fun) were connected to the content of the conference. Each time you write on a wall, write on a post-it or send a tweet, you are reinforcing your learning. Needless to mention, there was a lot of buzz on Social Media!
- Spend time training your speakers. Your speakers should be your allies… they provide the content of the meeting. Therefore, spend time coaching them on how to deliver great presentations, especially if they are not professional speakers. PCMA did a phenomenal job with this: did 3 webinars just for them on how to design effective presentations and how to engage with audiences, shared a bunch of resources and held several calls to discuss content with them. The result? All presentations were focused on the learning outcomes and were highly engaging, with many opportunities to discuss with peers. Most of the sessions had also handouts, which delegates could print out when leaving the room. This is how to really provide an educational experience!
- Think about the attendee journey. At Convening Leaders, many areas and activities were somewhat new. When people are unfamiliar with something, they are likely to not understand it and skip it. Unless you hold their hands, make the journey as easy as possible and give clear instructions. Again, PCMA did this with several communications, handouts and even webinars explaining what each activity was and how to made the most of it. So put yourself in your attendee’s shoes, map the entire experience and include clues when necessary.